South Carolina Childhood
Joseph William Frazier, or "Billy Boy" as he was called during his childhood, was born on January 12, 1944 in Beaufort, South Carolina. His parents, Rubin and Dolly Frazier, worked as farm laborers and raised their twelve surviving children in the rural hamlet of Laurel Bay. Part of the Gullah community of South Carolina, Frazier's family was part of extended kinship network of the descendants of former slaves. The mutual support of the community's residents helped Frazier build his self-esteem despite the poverty and racism that he experienced in the rural South. His status as his father's favorite in the family also helped Frazier to have a happy childhood. Frazier was often at his father's side helping him manufacture and distribute illegal moonshine; the elder Frazier had lost one of his arms in a lover's quarrel some years before.
Frazier dropped out of school in the tenth grade and began to work on a nearby farm as a laborer. After he spoke out against the beating of a fellow worker by the farm's owner, Frazier came under threat himself. He was fired from his job and felt compelled to leave the region altogether. After saving enough money for a Greyhound Bus ticket, Frazier joined his older brother, Tommy, in New York City in 1959. Unable to find steady work, Frazier sometimes resorted to stealing cars to make some money. He subsequently moved to Philadelphia, where some of his relatives lived, and found employment at the Cross Brothers kosher slaughterhouse. Although he was regularly cheated out of his wages by the company, Frazier worked in the meat packing plant from 1961 to 1963. He sent part of his wages back home to support the children he had with two of his girlfriends, Florence Smith and a woman he later identified only as "Rosetta." He had two children with Rosetta in the early 1960s, but married Smith in September 1963. The couple divorced in 1985 after raising seven children together.
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